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Trust Your Audience (or do you?)

Friend and I are writing some scripts for Short Films. We've recently had a creative discussion/Argument about his latest script. :lol:

I felt that almost every aspect of the 'PLOT' was buried within the subtext. At the end I wasn't sure what had happened.

He replied that you've got to Trust the audience, Trust them to make the connections, to interpret the meaning etc...


SO my question to you is this...

How much do you Trust your audience?? Do you wirte for people as naturally smart as yourself or do you write for the dumb guy who needs it all explaining??

Just how subtle can you be within your screenplay??
 
There is no set, single answer to this question. A lot depends on your audience. A lot depends on your intentions. Screenwriting winds up being a bit of a balancing act; you don't want to come across like you're spoon-feeding the audience, or being expository, but you don't want your audience to check out halfway through the movie, either.

It sounds like your friend is trying to write a bit of a head-scratcher. That's fine. What he needs to balance, though, is the amount of information that the audience gets that makes them want to keep going, and to figure out what's going on. If, after reading his script, you don't think that he did, then he's very much wrong to dismiss your input.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
You might consider having some people whose opinion you value but who are not directly involved in the writing take a look and give feedback, see if they "get it." Best if the readers are similar to your target audience, too.
 
Friend and I are writing some scripts for Short Films. We've recently had a creative discussion/Argument about his latest script. :lol:

I felt that almost every aspect of the 'PLOT' was buried within the subtext. At the end I wasn't sure what had happened.

He replied that you've got to Trust the audience, Trust them to make the connections, to interpret the meaning etc...


SO my question to you is this...

How much do you Trust your audience?? Do you wirte for people as naturally smart as yourself or do you write for the dumb guy who needs it all explaining??

Just how subtle can you be within your screenplay??

On EXACTLY this point (this is from an interview on my site with a very talented filmmaker):

"Trust your audience to be smart. Don’t over-explain your setting or story. The more exposition I cut from the script, the better it was. Too much detail makes things seem small, because it feels like you are seeing everything at once, all the world has to offer, and it feels like a dollhouse. It doesn’t matter if the audience doesn’t know the context. If they are involved with the character, they will start to put it all together anyway.

"When the audience is engaged like that, when they feel like they are playing an active part in the film, then the setting seems much more detailed – because they make it all up themselves, and come up with far better stuff. The best example of this is Blade Runner, which only gives you sort of connect-the-dots elements of the world, but is constantly noted for being the greatest world-building film of all time. Just worry about the characters. The place will build itself."
 
That said, if your plot really is all told in subtext, that may not be such a good thing. That can work for prose fiction, but you might consider using a b-story to illustrate your subtext or theme. This is a technique often used in television writing - although it might not work if your film is too short.

So you have to strike a careful balance between explaining and over-explaining. My feeling is, especially in genre film, you focus on the characters and their actions (dialog is secondary to what they actually DO), and let the world around them take care of itself.
 
Good stuff!! Yeah totally appreciate there's no "one size fits all" answer to this just wanted to pick the big bad brains on here.

The B-Line story is really interesting. We're looking at the 5-10min mark for the shorts so it's going to be hard to establish a really complex character with just the subtext/negative space.

There has to be a case though...and I'm just playing Devils advocate here... That if the audience isn't all on the same page at some point what happens afterward becomes pointless.
 
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For my films, I like to engage my audience by not giving them everything. Leave gaps and make them fill those up by themselves. Being able to think about a movie and to use the imagination, are the best thing about watching a movie so don't take those away from the audience by explaining too much. You did your work, now let them do theirs. :D

*This is extremely important to shorts as well.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
indiePRO
Doesn’t it depend on who you (the filmmaker) thinks is their
audience?

If you are making a movie for mass consumption - worldwide
audiences willing to pay - then it seems that some dumbing
down is needed. I hate that term. An audience isn’t necessarily
“dumb” as in unintelligent or stupid - many people go to the
movies to be entertained only; nothing more. And then there
are the foreign audiences (foreign to the filmmaker) who don’t
grasp subtext of foreign (to them) cultures. The broader a plot
is the larger the potential audience.

If you are making movies for a smaller audience and if you are
just starting out as filmmakers then making the film YOUR way
is, I believe, essential. You will learn what audiences get and don’t
get, and the audiences who understand your work will love you
for it.

Do you wirte for people as naturally smart as yourself or do you write for the dumb guy who needs it all explaining??
This is an interesting question; the assumption is that YOU are
smarter than most. That might be the case. But then again, it
might not be. You may be equally as smart as most people.
Perhaps your aren’t “naturally smart”. And the “dumb guy” isn’t
as dense as you assume. Please do not take my comment as a
personal attack. I’m just exploring your use of words.

You have a long career ahead of you. You can (and should) make
several short films deep in subtext, smarter than the average person
may be and see how audiences react. See how YOU react. Then
make a few for the dumb guy who needs it all explained. Since
there is not one-size-fits-all answer, you will grow as filmmakers
and learn about your audience.

It's a great issue to bring up and explore.
 
I've been trying to figure this one out of myself. So far, my strategy is to pretend as though I'm some stranger walking in on the conversation. That way, I'm careful about how much I say. I say just enough for some stranger who just came in to figure out the gist of what's going on but not enough to where its as though the people having the conversation are saying it so as to include that stranger.

Does that make sense?

Honestly though, I think it also depends on the movie you're making. Drive didn't need too much dialogue because the movie was about what the main character did and who he was as a person, not because some grand story was being unfolded. The more convoluted and complex the story is, the more dialogue is needed for the audience to understand what's going on. The simpler the story the less you need to focus on dialogue.

Its like the difference between Pulp Fiction and No Country for Old Men. Pulp Fiction was about a bunch of different people, their affairs, and how those affairs connected to everyone else's. No Country for Old Men was about a hit man sent out to collect money from a deal gone wrong, only to find that some other dude took off with it. I mean, the entire movie was basically a cat and mouse chase.
 
You do both at the same time.

Good storytelling is not about lecturing, but shepherding. It is like how a good teacher makes his or her students feel smarter, more confident, and more interesting in learning by not simply dumping answers in the student's laps, but by leading them to ask questions, to think about the subject matter, and then GUIDING them to answer the questions ALL ON THEIR OWN. But guiding does not mean leaving it all up to them to figure it out. You give them the answer, but in a way that feels as if they came up with it themselves. The teacher purposes leading them from one point to the next until they reach the answer. It is kind of like the Socratic method, how Socrates answered questions with questions in order to lead people to figure out things on their own (even though they were being specifically led to Socrates' opinion on the matter, not their own. However, they felt Socrates' opinion to be true because they were shepherded in a way that made them believe it was their own answer, and thus believed it then as their own opinion.)

Smart storytelling gives its information in a way that creates an interactive experience in the same way that a teacher creates an interactive lesson. It uses dramatic devices such as mystery, surprise, and suspense to lead the audience's minds from one point to the next. The audience feels as if they part of a mental adventure where they are putting together all the clues and pieces on their own, but in reality their attentions are being specifically guided from one point to the next by the storyteller like guiding a dog with a trail of kibbles. You spell things out, but not like the audience is stupid. The storyteller's hand should maintain total control, yet remain invisible.
 
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Wouldn't hurt to post it for us. Then we could judge for ourselves. ;)

I would but it's not my script so I don't think that's fair. Plus I think we've sorted it now!

Some excellent points being made. Just to clarify I'm not trying to suggest I'm some kind of smart guy here :hmm:

Just interested in how subtle people think you can/should be with your story/plot and any techniques and tricks people have to make sure audiences are following along.

Similar to what Firm1 said about using a familar storyline - was reading an interview with Haneke talking about using cliche and "film convention" to firmly establish a scenario/emotion so that you can then begin to manipulate them with better effect.
 
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